Friday 1st November 2019
The day had finally arrived. 2 years in the planning. I was leaving for an adventure in Peru. My suitcase was packed and my business in the capable hands of my team. My family, who I was going to miss dreadfully, all busy with their own things. 3 weeks away is a really long time, but I felt ready.
I flitted in and out of work a couple of times on the departure date, mainly to pick up products that I hadn’t yet packed. I only trust our SPFs and that’s all I’ll put on my skin. I mainly use the Mesoestetic Sun Protective Body Lotion SPF30, Jane Iredale Powder Me SPF in Nude SPF30 and Jane Iredale Lip Drink SPF 20. I adore these products and I know that I won’t be the one with sunburn.
My partner dropped me at Pease Pottage where a coach was leaving for Heathrow with all the participants for the first part of my journey. This was a charity challenge for the wonderful Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice in Sussex. Hiking 51km on the Inca Trail in Peru at altitude. I was nervous, but excited, unsure how I was going to feel once I got to Cusco.
Cusco, for those of you that don’t know, is already at altitude, based at 3,300m above sea level. This can hit you on arrival and you don’t know how you’re going to respond. With the amount of walking we faced with the type of terrain I knew the challenge was going to be tough.
I joined an equally excited group, 34 of us in total and we made our way to Heathrow. Some of the team I already knew. I’m not new to challenges, this is my 3rd one in 4 years. A few of us I had met on at least one of those challenges and there is a small group who I’d completed both with. The next adventure was about to begin.
8.35pm we departed. 3 plane journey’s and 30 hours later (we had to go via Sau Paulo and Lima) we touched down in Cusco.
Saturday 2nd November 2019
By the time we arrived it was lunch time and we were collected from the airport by the team who were going to be our guides during our trek. We were whizzed off for a late lunch at the Musee de Café before walking to our hotel, which was lovely. It had an open courtyard in the centre. We rested up before heading out for dinner. This was buffet style. We had been told that we wouldn’t have alcohol on our trip, so we were surprised to find it available and I did decide that one glass wouldn’t hurt too much.
I was feeling generally OK during my time in Cusco so far, a little light headed, but that can be normal after a long journey and your tired. Maybe my breath was a little shorter. Elaine, my travel buddy and roomie (more on her later in part 2 and 3), was feeling quite nauseas and sat up most of the night in bed.
Sunday 3rd November 2019
Today we were gearing up for a first trek. We weren’t quite heading out onto the Inca trail just yet but going for an 8km acclimatisation trek round the Inca sites. We had 3 buses between the group of us and these took us up to the Inca site at Sacsahuaman (for ease, just say “Sexy Woman”).
This site is actually Pre-Inca, originally built by the Killke culture around 1100 and was expanded and added to by the Inca from the 13th century. No-one really knows still how all the big boulders and rocks that weigh several tons were successfully moved onto the mountainous sites. Clever engineering of the boulders, one on top of another, closely fitting together like bricks. It’s a stunning site and one that wets our appetites for what we’ve got to come in a few days’ time, the prize of the stunning Macchu Pichu.
We also visited another site, Tambomachay. We walked through some stunning countryside in the Andes surrounding Cusco and got a first glimpse of this incredible mountain range.
Our lunch was on a mountain side, provided by chefs who had carried their stuff up there and set up tents and a cookery area to ensure that we were fed and watered. They put on the most incredible lunch of meats and different salads. It was really awesome.
We walked from our lunch spot all the way back down into Cusco. Cusco is a lovely town, it felt really cosmopolitan and at night looks beautiful when lit up.
After a rest we headed out for a buffet meal with entertainment of a Peruvian band and dancers. It was also Carl, one of our team members birthday, so we had a great evening celebrating, though it was early night as we were so tired and we were having to get up super early in the morning.
In terms of altitude, not a bad first day for me. My sinuses felt blocked when I woke up which led to a headache for most of the day and definitely a little harder work breathing, but I was OK and it felt manageable. One poor lady, Jenny, had been desperately sick whilst our trekking and there was great concern that she might not manage to start the actual trail.
Monday 4th November 2019
Super early is 5.30am! Quick breakfast to leave at 6am. Jenny had made a miraculous recovery overnight and was trekking with us. We took a 4 hour journey, stopping for a coffee and a sneaky chocolate bar on the way to the start of the trail. We were provided snacks in a reusable fabric bag, that we were told to keep to reuse every day. We also had a group of locals talk to us about the non-use of single use plastics and disposal of them on the Inca Trail. It’s so good to see a real effort in the “War on Plastics”.
We started the trail at 10.45 at KM82. Today it is estimated we hiked around 11km. We started along the Urubampa river. Our first stop for lunch was near Llactapata. Llactapata is another Inca site in this section of the Andes, which we can see from the trail, so the aerial view of how the site was laid out. There are terraces for the agriculture and the wall at the edge of the site had been erected like the shape of a snake. The snake often seen as representing the underworld, which rather than being hell is actually seen in Inca traditions as representing new life.
The lunch each day was served in tents. We always had soup for starter then followed by a lunch that changed. It was quite simple and basic, which I could understand. The porters, who we called “Wayki”, which actually means “family” and a lovely way to refer to them, were absolutely amazing. They had to carry all this gear up and down the mountains and set things up at the next site and clap us in on arrival at each site. Clap us in? Honestly, the Wayki’s deserved a medal and the biggest applause of all. The way they ran past us, whether up or down hill, carrying up to 20 kilos on their back. There we were, puffing and panting and trying to find our rhythm, with our day packs.
I was worried about exploitation but I spoke with one of the guides about this who assured me that being a Wayki provides them with needed work. It is also regulated by the government now and my understanding is that they get better pay, shoes, outdoor clothes etc and they are restricted to carrying a maximum of 20kilos (which is still an enormous weight. I wouldn’t like to have attempted the Inca Trail with my suitcase on my back. It was bad enough getting it down my own steps!)
After Lunch we trekked up the Cusichaca valley to Huallyabamba campsite (3000m), our first night’s stop. The last inhabited place on the trail. The terrain was tough and a lot of uphill, particularly towards the end. I remember feeling really glad and a sense of achievement when I arrived in camp on that first evening. Clapped in by the Wayki’s and then brought hot water in a small bowl with a small soap in a dish to our 2 man tents (I was sharing with Elaine) But not after I had spied a beer that they had also carried up and I readily assisted in lightning their load by a bottle! Our toilets were camping toilets in tents. Much better and cleaner than squat toilets that we’ve had in challenges in the past. The views are just stunning. All around us are mountains.
Dinner, similar to lunch in the tents, and mainly similar style food. Lots of Coca tea to help with any altitude issues. I had suffered from a headache again for most of the day.
The biggest disappointment today was 2 team members arrived at camp very late, after dark. They’d found it tough going and it was set to get tougher still. They made the decision not to continue on this particular journey, which was an incredibly hard choice for them to make. I know they were gutted and speaking to them afterwards I know they didn’t feel from then as much part of the team as they would have liked. If they are reading this, and they know who they are, you are amazingly strong, brave ladies who took on this challenge, and as far as I’m concerned and I’m sure the rest of the team, you succeeded. It was tough and you still had to make your way down again the following day and then you came to meet us all at Macchu Pichu. I love you both.
Tuesday 5th November 2019
5am start today, breakfast at 5.30 to leave at 6am. Today was the toughest day in terms of our climbing. Distance planned was 11km. The aim to climb from 3,000m to 4,200m to Dead Womam’s Pass (well that’s a frightening name in itself [Symbol]). I had sinus issues and a headache, but I was ok.
The climb was stunning, as was all scenery. You take it for granted after a while because wherever you look you see the trail, greenery and stunning mountains for the backdrop. The power of the mountains felt immense. On a rest stop I realised that I had a nose bleed, not something that I commonly get. Just another side effect of the altitude.
We reached our lunch spot, which again was set amongst this stunning scenery. We were reassured that the rest of the way to Dead Woman’s Pass would be undulating and easier. With this being my third challenge, I always questioned the truth of what our guides told us in order to make something appear not quite so daunting, so I suspected it may have been played down. It had been a tough uphill climb all morning and we were feeling quite fatigued as a team. Vertigo and heights were other challenges that people had to try and deal with. Luckily for me, I’m ok there.
So we headed along this “undulating and easier” path to get to our destination. Mmmm, I question that statement heavily. This was another tough, uphill climb that felt like it went on for ever. They hadn’t called it Dead Womens Pass for no reason [Symbol] I did summit however and was rewarded with the most amazing view for my troubles. It was emotional. Lots of tears as team members reached the top. It took a while for everyone to get there, but everyone achieved it and what an amazing moment it was for everyone.
It was then downhill all the way to camp. This may sound easy but it was a very steep downhill path with dry, rocky ground and it was tough. We descended 600m to Pacaymayo Valley Camp where we rested up for the night.
Wednesday 6th November 2019
Today was one of our team mate’s, Hannah’s, birthday and what a special day ahead for her. This was the most amazing day, although it was the furthest in distance, 16km. The terrain today was more undulating rather than steep. Still tough in places. We walked up to Runkuraqay Pass (3,950m) and descended to Phyupatamarka (3,600m). We walked along sides of mountains, passing through cloud forests as we went. Waterfalls running over the sides of the mountain. Just stunning.
Time did start to draw in and we weren’t down at camp. Camp was at Winay-Wayna (2,700m). Nobody really wanted to arrive after dark. With the advice of the guide, a small group of us near the front, picked up pace and really went some to reach camp in time. That was tough work but we made it. Many more of the team were further back and didn’t manage to reach camp before it went dark.
Thursday 7th November 2019
Our final day. The agenda to trek from Winay-Wayna campsite to Inti Punku, otherwise known as the Sun Gate. Then finally from the Sun Gate into Macchu Pichu itself. Today 5km. However, we were a tired team and it was raining.
Before departing camp we did a big thank you to the Wyki’s for all their support and to the chefs and guides. Jodie Kidd was part of our team and gave a speech to thank them.
We reached the Sun Gate in the pouring rain and we were cold too. However, moments after arriving the clouds did clear enough to give us some views, which although they may not have been as spectacular as what we hoped, were still massively rewarding and other people said they had been there 3 hours to see what we saw on arrival.
I speak to my sister quite a lot. She’s rather like a God to me. She passed away from breast cancer in 2010. But she was always there for me if I needed her. Well I needed her now. I needed some strength to trudge through in the rain. I needed her to stop the rain. Not for me but for all our team. We had worked so hard and needed the reward of seeing Macchu Pichu in its glory.
Well we didn’t quite get that, but it was pretty close, so my sister remains my God. We managed to get some photos overlooking Macchu Pichu (despite some rain and cloud) and when we reached this absolutely incredible Inca site we were starting to dry out and the rain came to a halt. An amazing Inca site with awesome views. What more can I say?
We stayed for an hour or two (I lost watching time very early on in the trek) before reaching transport for the first time in days. Our weary legs grateful that they didn’t have to walk any further and we were taken down by bus to Aguas Calienta. A really pretty town that we had lunch in, in a proper restaurant and not in tents. I even managed a Pisco Sour and glass of wine.
An eventful train journey back down to near Cusco followed, where we were rewarded with hilarious entertainment and Peruvian style fashion show and everyone (well nearly everyone) was feeling on a high. A couple of people were starting to feel unwell.
The buses picked us up from the train to take us the final way back to the hotel. It was here that I started to feel unwell. I made it back to the hotel before some bug kicked in that left me wiped out until the following evening. At least the challenge was completed.
Friday 8th November 2019
Due to no flushing water and the fact that I had been so ill, my poor room mate had to sleep out on the hotel balcony as they had been unable to put her into another room. Christine, another team member had joined her as her roomie was also ill and with the same water issues.
It was an anti-climax to the end of a brilliant week with the most amazing team of people. We had all achieved this together. I was determined to make it along in the evening to our celebratory meal, but it’s hard to celebrate when your feeling rough. Also no-one wanted to catch it as so many team members weren’t feeling great and everyone had the long journey back to the UK the following day, so I was keeping my distance.
We received medals and I received a certificate for the Dryest Sense of Humour and for keeping Lukas (another team member) in check. Me? Dry sense of humour?
As a team, we were told by our team member, Ambrose Harcourt, the former Southern FM Mr Love DJ, we had raised over £140,000, far more than our minimum amount. This means so much to the hospice and it pushes the difficulties of the challenge into the background. These kids and their families face enormous challenges every day that they get on with, often not complaining and the Chestnut Tree gives them the support that they need. If anyone would still like to donate then you can visit my JustGiving page here
Saturday 9th November 2019
The team left Cusco for the UK at 3am on the Saturday morning. Elaine and I had arranged to stay on in Peru until the 21st.
This is where I leave part one. Next week I’ll bring you our continued adventures in Arequipa and the Colca Canyon.